Friday, June 23, 2006

I used to be a Linesman

I’m obliged to balance my life around football this month – as if the last eight months had never happened. The endlessly televised sweep of a team of over-paid egoists regularly proving to the world that the best thing to do with your head is to beat a ball with it. It certainly beats learning something, even if it’s as ephemeral as the weather program on Channel 87. My associate on the paper is from Valencia, so we have had to close early over the winter and spring on the nights that his team was playing. Or carry on working I suppose at a kind of half-speed. In fact, close early and have a whisky with the Russian girls over the road. It has its positive side.
On football night, the whole town would be quiet, apart from the bellow of a million television screens and the occasional shriek from the viewers along the lines of ‘shoot the ref’ or ‘kill the tropical gentleman playing wing for the other team’. This being a loose translation, but one that, I hope, manages to maintain the sentiment.
Eventually, two things would be bound to happen. The first would be a dozen heavy explosions as Pedro, the town pyrotechnican, blasted skywards a few rockets substantial enough to have given Werner von Braun a flutter of pleasure, regardless of who won as long as somebody did (Werner’s sentiments exactly), and, secondly, the final whistle would invariably presage a great outpouring of voluble football fans into the streets, bars and knock-shops of the community.
But, with Barcelona apparently winning every cup ever cast, plated or pressed, with ‘their foreign team-maters’ beating ‘our foreign team mates’ (assuming you’re a Real Madrid, Valencia or Seville supporter), I had kind of assumed that the whole season was finally washed up for another year. Actually, another three months, but, even that’s a start.
It’s our own fault, of course. The game was invented by the English – apparently as an economical way of keeping warm. It was later introduced by the Scots (who had previously been prospecting in the hills and run out of porridge) into a small mining town in Murcia in the later part of the nineteenth century. In fact, the oldest footie pitch is still there. In Aguilas!
Spain’s most famous commentator is English. He’s called Michael Robinson and he used to play for Osasuna (who did rather well this year). If you know him and David Beckham (who he? – Ed) then you can usually get a drink or two out of it. Of course, if you know Ronaldihno, you might get a full dinner…
Now, to my recent surprise, the world cup has started. Trinidad and Tobago against Finland. Most unfair, Finland should have teamed up with Sweden and given them a good thrashing.
Catalonia wanted to field its own team – after all, in the Reino Unido we have Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, England and the Scilly Isles all fighting their corner, so why shouldn’t the really-jolly-nearly independent republic of Catalunia have its own chaps? Spain (or if you prefer – the lumpenspain) is in fact quite in favour of the idea, considering that any Catalonian player found in the Spanish team would probably score an own-goal just out of spite.When another country’s team plays, even if we couldn’t find it on a map, we roar with pleasure or rage. Pathetic. Personally, if Ethiopia beats Cyprus or not, I can truly claim not to care – as long as the office doesn’t close early again.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

I was probably dreaming all along

Two pictures from last night.
The truth is, the first picture is posted here for the pleasure of a ‘statistically appreciable minority’ of those that visit this site – namely, myself.
Well, you are welcome to marvel at the picture (a rare portrait of your guide to this site, taken last night in a natural pose in, for some reason, the Almería bull ring, where, as you can see, I was not entirely alone). If there’s a point to this posting, it’s that you can always find something peculiar, interesting, remarkable or unforgettable if you tear yourself away from the television, the football and your English neighbours and go and try something different. That and… it’s best to take a camera.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

No Spitting on the Bus

So, you can see what happens during the World Cup. Between the fans staying either at home, or at least in front of the TV set inside, together with the still far from calm weather (it's mid June and still snowing), there's not much action on the deck.

Today, a number of cars are supporting little flag-poles together with their national emblems stuck to their back windows as they motor past. Quite embarrassing for the ordinary folk - especially those who had carefully ordered one from Trinidad and Tobago. In retrospect, it's just as well that they arrived late at the post office...

Meanwhile, as an occasional shriek filters out from the bar inside - either a free kick or one of the Russian girls dropping a beer down the neck of a punter - the terrace is peaceful and calm.

Like the old days...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Medieval Market in Mojácar

It's a surprisingly overcast weekend, with some rain over Mojácar and lightening up in the hills beyond. This morning, the second day of the three-day Moors and Christians bash, I staggered and wheezed up the hill from the Campo de Fútbol - converted into a parking lot - to have a look at the medieval market and the street musicians.

Nevertheless, in my picture, the new Morales leasure centre and business emporium has stolen into centre-stage (that's the massive crane above the hulk). I'm told they've all got a small hallway each where they will soon be able to sell teeshirts and humorously shaped ashtrays to their heart's content.

The market is fun, with the vendors dressed up in sacks and selling plastic key-chain witches, oulde bed-side lamps and other memorablia from a byegone age. A rather good street-band hops past playing an old Malicorne number on whistles, bagpipes and drums. A Rumanian accordianist twitches into 'O Sole Mio' outside the Indalo to the faint horror of the tourists. Spare a shilling, Guv?

A Mojaquero decides to drive his car through the square and up to his eyrie. Outta the way, he honks at the tourists. It should be fun tonight.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A Trim Little Number in Yellow

The phone rang. One of the kids had been messing with the damn thing so I wasn’t immediately aware what was going on. The CD was belting out some fine blues and there was this thin weepy sound running below, just on this side of conscious. A mild arrhythmia over my heart finally helped me put it together – the damn mobile phone in my shirt was vibrating and… yes… actually crying to be answered.
Which was a relief in one sense, I’m not going to keel over the steering wheel with a cracked pump and disappear with the old banger over the cliff. At least, not today.
Talking on a mobile phone is illegal when you’re driving. Like many other agreeable activities which one can get up to behind the wheel, yes… many agreeable activities (dreams for a moment)… Whoa! I almost left the road there. Jeez – that was close.
So, since I don’t have a chauffer like the head of the traffic department, a political oaf called Pere Navarro, and therefore can’t answer the phone and plan my next piece of business; and, unlike Mr Navarro, who is concerned about the heady mixture of saving lives, pissing people off and furthering his brilliant career in the PSOE, I just want to sell another set of encyclopaedias… Shit! I'll have to pull off the road.
There’s a handy lip on our roads, called the arcén. That’s where you go when you need to stop the car and do something else. You don’t want to spend too long on the arcén as it can be quite dangerous, with truck drivers thundering past your narrow ledge of safety or perhaps, nodding off as the tachometer clicks into the red, they drive straight in, through and over you. The sod never even noticed.
Then, there’s the road-cops, los primos. The cousins.
You can’t loiter with your vehicle on the arcén unless you have your emergency lights on, are wearing a kind of psychedelic pyjama top and have placed your warning triangles both fifty metres before and behind.
Unless it’s a motor-bike. They haven’t figured out where you can carry the triangles yet.
If they show, the cops are going to want to see if you carry spare light bulbs, a driving licence and the rest of it – and they will be looking for illegal immigrants hiding under the spare wheel, traces of narcotics in the ashtray and an illegal radar trap apparatus stuffed down your jumper.
Pere Navarro has introduced the ‘points system’ now. You start with twelve on your licence and the police are under instruction to start the carving. Aggressively. They take any more and, shit, I’m walking home. It’s all right for Pere, he can always get another chauffer.
All this to answer the phone, which has stopped ringing by now anyway.
So, I pull the stupid yellow day-glo number on, over my head. The price tag is flapping on my chest so I wrench it off and (no one looking) throw the bloody thing into the undergrowth.
To the boot of the car to get the triangles. You need to carry two of them – one for ahead and the other for behind. They had better not blow over, the cops might think I just threw them onto the road in a petulant rage.
I take the first one up the road and pace out fifty metres, forty-nine, fifty. Then back to the car and repeat the same process the other way. I will have walked over a quarter of a kilometre by the time I'm through with this but, anyway, I’ve dumped the second warning sign on the ground here on the curve and I've brought the phone and am now gonna…
-Eh Oiga!
There’s some bloke up-road from me. He’s standing a hundred metres away, just by my front triangle. It trembles in the slight wind. –You wanna buy this thing off me, he shouts.
-You fuck the fuck off, bastard! A huge trailer rumbles past and the triangle, grateful for the distraction, is blown off the border and flitters down into the valley below.
I’ve picked at the phone now for the re-dial and am walking back to the car, one eye on the gypsy and the other out for the cops. I’ve got my surviving triangle tucked under my arm where it gently rips my pyjama top.
It was a wrong fucking number. But you knew that.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Los Moros y Cristianos

The Moors and Christians is a fine old traditional fiesta which dates all the way back to 1988 when somebody decided to dress up as a Moor – a north African warrior – and following this sartorial decision went on a three day bender in Mojácar, finally waking up in the holding cell of the Almería immigration Police where only a bent and slightly moist Spanish identity card stood between the hung-over celebrant and a one-way trip to Casablanca.
His shoe-prints can still be found on the inside back door of the Mojácar paddy-wagon, next to the dent caused by Peter Honey’s head as he engineered his daring escape on a steep hill approaching the Huercal Overa hospital after being taken, unconscious and just in time, from the gentlemen’s lavatory located, vaguely speaking, somewhere behind the Bar Indalo.
Times change, and now thousands of people will dress up as Moors (a sheet, a pair of slippers and a readily available ID card being the main features) or as Christians, where an all-weather suit, an orange tie, brogues and a trilby hat is the obligatory dress. It's theoretically the celebration of an agreement made over a glass of blackberry juice in 1488 by the local mayor (a Moor) and the leader of the besieging Christian forces who was anxious to carry on towards Granada (where you could get a decent beer).
The three-day jag ends on Sunday afternoon (June 11th) with an endless procession through the main square of our town and off, away down the hill to the awaiting busses below. Six well-represented guilds, in full and exquisite costume, will make the march-past, with a ambulatory band between each one to keep the peace and provide musical refreshment for those onlookers too foolish to have found shade and shelter in one of our agreeable if slightly over-priced bars. Although no tomatoes are thrown, no bulls are loosed and the paella has usually all gone by the time you’ve found a plastic plate and scraped it clean, the Moors and Christians is a festival that is certainly worth visiting.
Tell them I sent you.

Friday, June 02, 2006

One of those Concerned Citizen articles

This is a picture of a bit of road. Yes, yes - prize winning stuff. This portrait of a piece of the King's highway is just below the Mojácar fuente and is taken on the first bend going towards Turre. It's a highly travelled road, with the one-way traffic through the pueblo returning on this section, plus the through traffic going both ways. It's serpentine, narrow... and is heavily used by pedestrians who live in the barrio down below, or who are walking to and from the cemetery, preferably dressed in black. There's never been a side-walk here, but there used to be a kind of narrow way for walkers which, with the nice new metal traffic-guards, has now been made redundant.

Previously, you would merely fall to safety if a bus was coming up behind you or, at a pinch, you could tangle yourself with a cyclist panting up the rise in his purple acrylic outfit and silly hat. Now, to avoid the increasingly speedy and dense traffic, a pedestrian needs to be able to - hop - leap over the balustrade before dropping several metres to safety.

It's not that easy, says the town hall. The road belongs to the diputacíon - the county council. They won't consider a side-walk here (until somebody presumably kicks up a stink). However, the town could incorporate this stretch of road (it's within existing city limits) and create a pavement, probably at the cost of some minor expropriation.

Or, how about this. They could put up a 30kms speed sign...